Brand Resilience During a Crisis: COVID-19 PR Guidelines from Mission North

We don’t know how long the COVID-19 pandemic will impact our daily lives, businesses and the economy, but we do know that it’s our new normal for the foreseeable future. Its dominance of our attention and headlines has been unprecedented: as of last Friday, there were 2.1B media mentions of COVID-19. Compare that to 66.3M total mentions for SARS and 16.2M for Ebola during the entirety of those outbreaks. 

These are unsettling times and businesses are navigating tremendous uncertainty. The companies that adapt now will be positioned to minimize their business risk and build more resilient brands. With this in mind, I am sharing Mission North’s general brand communications guidelines for navigating the COVID-19 crisis as effectively as possible. 

1. Be prepared; don’t assume business as usual. 

Carefully evaluate how COVID-19 will impact the approach to and timing for all outbound communications planned in the next 30-60 days — particularly any major company news moments, such as product launches and capital raises. 

Your communications plan should also consider how your main stakeholders are being affected by COVID-19. Are you able to authentically help them with new information, advice or product capabilities? This source of truth should shape your planning and the extent to which your content and communications should meaningfully adapt during this period. 

Here are a few additional ways to prepare:

Conduct an evaluation of your current outbound communications. Putting out cheery tweets about Spring Break will go off like a lead balloon. Consider a triage of outbound communications and pivoting to give audiences useful or educational content that can help them get through this crisis. 

Based on the above, reevaluate your major campaign plans for the next 30 days and pivot as necessary. This is not a great climate for making big announcements unrelated to COVID-19; however, in some cases, it may be most advantageous to move forward, albeit with extra sensitivity both to the media and your target audience. Work with your communication partner to devise a strategy based on your specific business situation and awareness goals. 

Use this time to plan. As your near-term plans may shift with the media and economic climate, consider if it makes sense to kickstart longer-lead projects, such as a survey, report or other content marketing asset. These will be invaluable assets to have on hand in several months as the landscape evolves and communications normalize. 

Think critically about customer and partner communications. Remember that inboxes are full of COVID-19 updates from businesses; make sure that your communications clearly focus on the action you are taking and the information that is essential to your audience. Here are some helpful guidelines and email examples from SendGrid.

Anticipate crisis management. Depending on your risk exposure, consider designing communication workflows around potential scenarios. It is very challenging to plan for a crisis during a crisis; identifying possible scenarios now and shaping the communications strategy will help immensely in the future. 

2. Be helpful, not opportunistic.

Brands will stand out positively or negatively for their communications during COVID-19. The most helpful brands will be remembered for leading by example. The opportunistic brands will be ridiculed. Being helpful requires companies to be honest about the role they play in the lives of their customers, and how that role is evolving with changing consumer and worker behaviors. 

Think about the following ways to contribute to the conversation rather than capitalizing on it:

Assess if there is an authentic opportunity to talk about how your product is helping in the face of COVID-19, such as a meaningful discount or new intelligence for those populations most impacted by the outbreak. Last week, Zoom donated their video conferencing tools to all K-12 schools. Cloudflare issued a discount to help the newly remote workforce lower their VPN and Firewall costs. Again, be extra-sensitive about coming across as self-promotional. Unless reporters proactively ask for sources (i.e., are already writing relevant stories), we generally recommend making these announcements via owned channels like your company’s blog, social media and email.

Consider producing a new resource and/or campaign related to COVID-19 —if you can contribute to the conversation in a relevant way. The resources you provide should map to your company’s unique expertise or insight. For example, here’s a helpful resource from Slack about how the company is using its platform to work from home. Other examples include Splunk’s interactive dashboard mapping COVID-19 and Twitter’s guidelines for brand communications during a crisis.   

3. Be adaptive.

Even as the chaos of COVID-190 normalizes, its impact in the weeks and months to come will remain unpredictable. We will all need to be adaptive in our communications decisions. Smart, proactive planning grounded in the guidelines above should bring a little more calm amid the storm and set your business up for success in the long run. 

In the coming days and weeks, we will be sharing additional resources and best practices about navigating the media, digital and event landscape in the midst of COVID-19. We hope these recommendations can be of use during a challenging time.

If you have feedback, questions or other thoughts to share, please reach out to us at bbourdon@missionnorth.com and tperry@misionnorth.com.

-Bill and Tyler